There are some mysteries that are fascinating to wonder at, unfortunately, there are others that leave us reeling for resolve. The unsolved cases that really hit home are the ones involving children, especially when a child is taken from a hospital mere hours after their birth.
The story of Shanara Mobley and her stolen baby, Kamiyah, stunned the world for nearly two decades. Recently, the mystery of the long-lost child resurfaced. The details were more shocking than anyone could have predicted, but what really threw the everyone for a loop was the very unlikely person to finally crack the case.
On July 10th, 1998, a young woman named Shanara Mobley gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in Florida. At age 16, she knew she had a long road ahead of her…but it wouldn’t be paved with diapers and late-night feedings as she expected.
The hours following the birth were hazy to the exhausted Shanara, so when a nurse walked into her room, the encounter didn’t stand out. She noticed the nurse’s thick glasses and oddly-colored wig but was in too much post-delivery pain to care.
Amid her grogginess, Shanara expressed fear about her future to the nurse. The nurse helped Shanara change her hospital gown and even gave her some advice. Comforted, Shanara didn’t think twice when, out of nowhere, the nurse said the baby looked sick.
Too groggy to question it, Shanara watched as the nurse cradled the newborn in her arms and swiftly left the room. That was the last time Shanara would see her daughter for almost 20 years.
So, why did the “nurse” do it? This was the question newscasters asked as Shanara’s story spread. She pleaded with the public to help her get her baby back, and the story flashed across countless TV screens for years…
…including the TV screen of a young Alexis Manigo, a girl who knew nothing of heartbreak or loss. Up until she was 17, Alexis lived a carefree life with her two brothers and her mom, Gloria. From the beginning, Alexis and Gloria shared a special bond.
It makes sense why Gloria idolized her daughter: Before Alexis came into her life, Gloria and her two sons lived in a state of constant fear. A single mom struggling to make ends meet, Gloria also endured an abusive relationship with a man named Charles Manigo.
When she found out she was pregnant, Gloria hoped the new baby would help…but this wasn’t the case. Even when she was pregnant, Charles would beat her. Gloria knew she couldn’t raise a baby in such a violent household, so she cut off all communication with Charles.
When Alexis was born, she brought vitality and hope back into Gloria’s life. Gloria was mother and father to Alexis, the person who supported her through her first steps and first days of school. They weren’t only mother and daughter — they were best friends.
This made Alexis’ teenage years difficult for Gloria to accept, emotionally and financially. With college on the horizon, Alexis tried to get a job to help with expenses. It wasn’t long, however, before she ran into an alarming problem.
No matter where she looked, she couldn’t find her social security number. She needed to find it, and fast — without this crucial information, getting a job and going to college would be impossible. Naturally, Alexis asked her mother for help.
Immediately, Gloria started to panic. She knew the secret she had concealed for years had to be revealed. So she sat her daughter down on their front porch and told her the story of the day she was born… but this time, she told Alexis the real story.
At first, Alexis thought her mom was kidding. But as the story unfolded, it was clear that every detail was all too real. Alexis couldn’t believe the truth: Gloria wasn’t her mother…she was her kidnapper.
Though she grew up as Alexis Manigo, her real name was Kamiyah. Anyone from Florida knew the story of poor baby Kamiyah, who had been kidnapped from the hospital mere hours after she was born…
…And everyone knew the story of Kamiyah’s grieving mother, Shanara Mobley. When Gloria told Alexis the truth, all Alexis could do was ask herself the same question Shanara and the media had asked themselves for years: Why?
Gloria, it turns out, was in a desperate state back in 1998. The hope she’d had of appeasing Charles with a baby was dashed when she had a miscarriage. Kidnapping Kimiyah was Gloria’s panic-ridden attempt to regain hope for a better life.
Everything Alexis knew — her family, her home, and even her name — were all a sham because of Gloria. With this in mind, Gloria waited nervously for Alexis’ reaction. But Alexis’ response was the last thing Gloria expected.
Alexis looked at her mother and realized how supportive she’d always been. So, Gloria wasn’t her biological mother — in that moment, Alexis didn’t care. She saw Gloria not as her kidnapper, but as the loving woman who raised her.
But when Alexis told some friends of her true identity, it wasn’t long before the police were knocking on the family’s door, looking for Gloria. Alexis pleaded with her mother to hide, but Gloria knew the jig was up.
Once the police confirmed the truth, Shanara received the phone call she’d been waiting almost 20 years for. Gloria, meanwhile, traded her nurse’s costume for an orange jumpsuit. She watched, devastated, from behind bars as Alexis reunited with her birth mother.
Though Shanara wanted her daughter to go by her birth name, Alexis insisted on staying Alexis Manigo. Everyone from Shanara to the police to the jury saw the special connection Alexis and Gloria shared despite the illegal way they came together.
During the trial, Alexis was caught in between two worlds: the world that could have been, and the only world she knew. Though Alexis had finally met her biological family, it pained her to see Gloria in jail…especially after her sentence was finalized.
Gloria was sentenced to 18 years in prison, the same timespan Shanara had been kept away from her beloved daughter. For Shanara, this sentencing was a small price to pay for what she deemed an unforgivable crime.
According to Shanara, the hardest part is competing with a kidnapper for Alexis’ love. It’s likely that Shenara will always be in competition with Gloria…even with Gloria behind bars. As Alexis said of Gloria, “She made a mistake, but I was loved…[Gloria is] a big part of my heart.”
That’s why Alexis felt a pang of empathy when, years later, she saw the story of “The Burger King Baby” in her news feed. Though it came to a head recently, that tale started twelve years before hers, in a Burger King bathroom on September 15th, 1986.
Workers and satisfied customers thought it a typical afternoon — until they heard shrieks in the bathroom. The manager on duty went to investigate. From the moment he opened the door, the cries, no longer muffled, filled the restaurant.
Wrapped in a sweater, the red-faced baby was lying on the floor beneath the sink. With no sign of a parent or responsible guardian, the manager realized the child was abandoned. Judging by her looks, she was just a few hours old.
With the newborn’s health at risk, Burger King’s staff promptly called an ambulance. EMTs arrived and confirmed the manager’s suspicions: the baby girl was maybe 3 hours old and, thankfully, healthy. This was only a small comfort to onlookers, who all felt tremendous sorrow for the baby.
Allentown Police arrived on scene to attempt tracking down the person responsible for abandoning the baby. Realistically, there wasn’t much to go on. One officer commented, “Right now, we’re the only thing this kid’s got in terms of a family.”
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Police turned to the public, pleading for someone to turn themselves in. An EMT cuddling the rosy-cheeked infant voiced what a lot of responders were thinking, “I’m sure whoever gave her up is having a very hard time right now.”
The “Burger King Baby” was the hot oneliner on all the local news stations. The police department hoped the continuous press coverage would trigger a guilty conscious. Still, no one came forward.
After exhausting all investigative resources — fingerprinting, interviews — and the baby remained parentless. They moved to put the little girl up for adoption. Several months after her chaotic entry to the world, the baby went to her first home.
Brenda and Carl Hollis learned of the abandoned baby in the bathroom from news reports. The couple was eager for a child of their own, so they adopted the “Burger King Baby” and finally gave her an actual name — Katheryn.
Brenda Hollis / Facebook
So it was 12 years of a normal suburban childhood — dance class, sleepovers, homework at the kitchen table — until the Hollises decided it was time to tell Katheryn the truth. She’d known she was adopted but not the painful details of her abandonment.
When words failed them, Brenda and Carl showed Katheryn an album of press clippings. Over the years, Katheryn wore the pages from use. “I would never want to replace my adopted family,” she said, “but being adopted, a part of you is missing and unless you’ve been adopted, you really just don’t understand that.”
But Katheryn carried on with life. After she graduated high school, she entered the medical field as an EMT ambulance driver, possibly a call to duty after the care she’d received in her most helpless time of need.
At 27, the now-married adult with her own child understood the challenge of bringing life into the world. Holding and mothering her own baby took the ever-present curiosity about her birth parents from a small flame into an all-consuming blaze.
Where does a regular person turn when they want to reach the masses? Facebook, of course. Katheryn hoped her snappy nickname would make people click the share button. So, she grabbed her markers, jotted down her unique story, and trusted the internet to come through.
Her photo, linked to a page titled Katheryn “Burger King Baby Deprill” quickly caught traction online. In the span of 2 weeks, 30,000 people shared her post. The power of social media circulation paid off, and Katheryn got the message she’d waited 27 years for.
Prepared for a hard-to-swallow serving of neglect, Katheryn was stunned by the story in her inbox. A woman named Cathy Pochek reached out, and she admitted she was her biological mother that left her in the public bathroom.
The message detailed how guilt ridden Cathy was for the ultimate act of abdication, but it was done out of the sheer desperation of a traumatized child. Cathy was 16 at the time, and she’d gotten pregnant as the result of a rape.
Her assault took place on a family vacation abroad. Gutted and wracked with shame, Cathy never confided in anyone, let alone her family, about the attack. When she returned to the States and discovered her pregnancy, she couldn’t handle the reality.
In Cathy’s teenage eyes, leaving her baby in a public space, where she surely would be found, was the only way out of her predicament. After giving birth to her daughter alone in her bedroom, she kissed her forehead and left her in the Burger King.
Katheryn sympathized. She thought of her own son, and how easy it is to make a mistake on the heels of trauma. Cathy had acted out of fear, but now they had a chance to move forward.
Following an initial meeting, Katheryn, Cathy, and Brenda were invited to share their story on NBC’s TODAY. For all three women, it was a major step towards healing and forging a new relationship, but they also discovered some funny family coincidences.
For starters, they share the same name. Cathy’s full name is Catherine Ann, and Brenda unknowingly named her daughter Katheryn Ann. Both women drive the exact same car, down to the color. Cathy worked as an EMT, just like Katheryn.
Besides their many mother-daughter likenesses, Cathy and Katheryn shared another strange connection. Cathy babysat a little boy who grew up to be Katheryn’s husband. In a small way, the universe brushed them past one another.
Luckily, the newly acquainted mother and daughter have the rest of their lives to unravel all the ways they were entwined. Katheryn found unexpected answers, and she’s one of many abandoned children who discovered their backgrounds were more complicated than they ever imagined.
For instance, Jen Chervin a 45-year-old, married teacher and resident of Beaverton, Oregon, thought her life was ordinary. But as a baby, she was found on December 18, 1971, abandoned on the steps of California’s Fremont Hospital.
“It was a stormy night, and I was wrapped in two blankets,” she said in a 2015 interview. Jen knew she was adopted, but growing up, she could only find information about her earliest days in the local newspapers.
For example, she knew that the nurses had heard her crying outside of the fire door as they happened to pass by on their rounds. Since this was just a week before Christmas, they decided to name her Holly Fremont. Unfortunately, they had no idea how she got there.
Moreover, police officers couldn’t find any identifying information about her birth parents. Luckily, Jen was promptly adopted by a couple who loved her deeply, and she grew up to teach math to children with autism. Clearly, she was quite well-adjusted, but she could never quite shake the questions surrounding her abandonment.
“Every year on my birthday at Christmastime I would wonder, ‘Is my mom thinking about me?’ Because I would think about her,” said Jen, who was 20 when she began to search for her biological parents herself.
The search went on for over 20 years, and by 2014, Jen started using social media to find some clues. Finally, she reached a turning point. “I had a woman reach out to me,” explained Jen. “She sent me a message, and she said, ‘Do you have a search angel working with you?'”
A “search angel” is a popular term for individuals who devote a great deal of their own time to helping others discover more about their family history. Jen decided to take the woman up on her offer right away.
“She said, ‘Have you tried DNA?’ And I thought, ‘What do you mean, DNA?'” Jen explained. Taking her search angel’s advice, Jen sent samples to two different companies that specialize in DNA testing.
“I had hundreds of DNA cousins, hundreds,” Jen said of her discovery after her test results came back. “And I’m looking at this page, and it’s people I’m related to, and that was surreal to me.” Once one of these cousins decided to help, Jen’s search accelerated.
The more family members Jen learned about, the more of them were willing to have their DNA tested. Finally, she found an uncle, and when he agreed to a DNA test, so did all seven of his brothers. Not long after that, Jen believed she had found her birth father!
That was good news, but what came next was unimaginably difficult: Jen had to call her biological father and reveal to him her identity. “He was shocked and tongue-tied,” said Jen. That wasn’t all, though. As it turned out, her father had some shocking news for her, too…
“They’re still married to the same individuals they were married to at the time, so [evidently] I’m a product of an affair,” said Jen. Because she was a reminder of his infidelity, he refused to meet her. That was hard to hear, but he did give her a clue as to who her birth mother was. Ultimately, it took more DNA testing, though… and another awkward call for her to find her mom.
Then, the moment arrived: she found her. “All the signs lead to you,” Jen recalled saying to her biological mother, who initially vehemently denied what Jen (who was essentially a stranger) was telling her. “She said to me, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.'”
“I don’t want to hurt you, I just want answers,” Jen remembered telling the woman over the phone. “That’s when she broke down and started crying, and she said, ‘I’m so sorry, and I thought about you every day.'”
Finally, the woman revealed the truth. Her husband had been serving in Vietnam while she temporarily relocated to North Carolina to stay with her family. That’s where the affair with Jen’s father started. Once she returned to her California home, she gave birth to Jen on her couch.
During this same conversation, Jen learned other things about her past, including the fact that her birthday was, indeed, the exact same day that she was found at the hospital: December 18. She also learned that she had some half-brothers and sisters. Most surprisingly, perhaps, was that she learned about the details of her abandonment.
“[After my mom gave birth to me] she said she held me for a couple of hours,” Jen recalled. “And then she woke up her daughters and put them in the back of the car and took me to the hospital and dropped me off.” Her birth mother was confident that the baby would be safe there.
As uncomfortable as the conversation may have been, Jen claimed that her birth mother was happy to hear from her. It brought up another challenge, though: her biological mother’s family may never find out that she exists, as she was the product of an extramarital affair.
“I know she was shocked that I found her,” explained Jen. “One of the first things she said was, ‘You can’t be a part of my family,’ and she said it panicked her, and I said, ‘I know, it’s okay.'” Even so, Jen hopes that one day she can meet her birth mother in person.
“She said she had a lot of guilt and shame that she’s been carrying all these years,” Jen continued. “I told her she needed to let that go.” Proving that their connection was still being rebuilt, Jen received her first Christmas present from her biological mother in 2015: a necklace with a note that read, “The cross is a reminder that you are always in my heart.” Jen is also happy to have closure. “It’s my mystery solved,” she said.